February 16th, 2017
She waved me over. I didn’t recognize her. I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Which always sort of amazes me since our town is so small, and I was raised here, and have lived here for a combined 38 years. I know many people here, if not by name, by face.
I walked over to her. One of her boots had a hole in the toe, and her clothes were oversized, hanging on her. She gave me a gentle smile, as she held her hand out to me and passed something into my hand.
I looked inside my hand, and it was a $100 bill. Then our eyes met. You know how when you really look at someone and you can get a glimpse of what we think is their life or their backstory, how you can sense pain and heartbreak? We connected for a brief moment, and heartbreak of some kind was palpable.
“Please give it to someone who’s hungry,” she said, softly, in barely more than a whisper.
I thanked her, and asked her what her name was. She didn’t give it to me, instead just politely shaking her head, and turning and walking away.
It was Wednesday in November of 2013, and I was in Ace Hardware. I was “fasting to feed the hungry,” and I had stopped in to collect a donation from the business.
I had started fasting once a week in 2013. Originally, I did it for health reasons. I had read of the health and anti aging benefits of fasting at least once a week. Apparently, fasting, or reducing calorie intake to 500-600 calories a day, once a week, has enormous health benefits. I am oversimplifying, but in layman’s terms, fasting sends your cells into repair. I also am an experimenter, especially when it comes to anything health and diet-related, and I wanted to see if I could lose 5 pounds in the process of experimenting with intermittent fasting.
The first time I fasted, I thought I was going to die. I was starving! I had a headache and major hunger pains. I remember when it was 11:30am, the time I usually ate lunch, I could barely take it. I was home, and it would be so easy to sneak a handful of nuts, or a spoonful of peanut butter, or whatever. This was my idea and the rules were mine to break. No one was keeping watch over me.
But I was determined. So I went upstairs, out of sight of our kitchen, and laid down in bed. A nap was elusive, what with the chattiness in my head about how hungry I was, and the pains – and loud growling reminders coming from my empty stomach, and all.
It was while lying there that I thought of all of the people in the world, including in my small town, that feel like this regularly, and not by choice. Wow. That put things in perspective for me real fast. I turned my mind to those people. I wondered who I knew, or who I saw throughout my town, in lines at the Post Office or at the grocery store, or on Main Street, or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, etc., who felt like this often. Everything about my fasting changed for me in that moment.
I decided to make my fasting be for a cause other than my own self-absorbed fitness and weight loss-related goals. I started “fasting to feed the hungry.” Every week I would pick a local cause, and I would fast for 24 hours, and I would post about it on Facebook. Businesses, such as Ace Hardware referenced above, and individuals in my town, would donate $24 (1 dollar for every hour of my fast) or more to whatever cause I was fasting for.
For me, it meant not only going hungry once a week but also getting out and being visible in my community and on Facebook during the days I fasted. It meant “selling”and marketing what I was doing in an effort to generate awareness and money for the particular cause. Many weeks I fasted and raised about $300-$500 a week for causes that included the Lander Care & Share Food Bank, the Friday Backpack Program, the One Stop Shelter, and others.
The Backpack program especially tugs at my heart. This is a program that sends home a backpack of food to kids on Fridays who won’t otherwise see a meal all weekend long. They get breakfast and lunch at school, and often that’s all they get for food. It’s actually a little pathetic that all I have to do to help feed those kids is go hungry for a single day…
It felt good to be fasting to feed the hungry. My fasting felt purposeful. I felt purposeful.
And, I also discovered that when I’m in a fasted state, I’m more present. It is so cliché to say “present,” but it’s true.
When I’m fasting – and hungry – I am more attuned. My senses are heightened, including all of the most important ones. I’m more tender on these days when I’m hungry, and that is a good thing for me. I’m more sensitive and not as selfish as I normally am.
I think it was Annie Dillard who wrote, “How we do one thing is how we do most things.” I think about this a lot. It’s useful. I don’t want to live recklessly and as if everything is in abundance. I want to not eat the house, and I want to taste my food, and to appreciate it. I don’t want to be a pig. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to over-consume. In my eating or in my living. And most importantly, I want to remember people who are less fortunate than I am, who could use a break or a little help.
I am not proud of myself often. But when I fast, I feel better about myself because I’m a more compassionate human being.
Every week when I fasted I was more compassionate because I thought more closely about people who are in need, and I felt closer to my community. The result is I think about my community a lot more now even when I’m not fasting, which has been an unexpected benefit.
Which brings me to the woman at the start of this story.
I think of her often. Anonymous, humble and generous. I’ve never seen her again. She was an angel to give $100 to someone in need. I sometimes wonder if she actually was an angel. Did she, and that transaction, really happen or was she an angel sent to deliver a message to me?
Both, I think? I want to be more like her.